Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Classic Ragu Bolognese

Last winter, my mom called to tell me about a delicious pasta dish she made: Classic Ragu Bolognese from Bon Appetit. She and my dad love this recipe. Since SP won't eat beef/veal, I was resigned to not being able to try this dish, but every time she raved about it, I was a bit jealous.
But since mom is here, helping us while I recover, and since it sounded really tasty, she decided to make it for us.
It simmered all afternoon and the house smelled so wonderful. Ground beef, ground veal, pancetta. Onions, carrots, celery. Red wine, tomato paste, beef broth, milk.
 And of course, parmesan to top the finished dish!
This was delicious! I now know why mom and dad like it so much. Mom said that she usually serves the sauce with penne, but she bought DeLallo Fettuccine this time.

In each bite, I could taste the beef and veal and pancetta - the pancetta gave it a nice salty bite. The bolognese looks like it might be dry, but it wasn't. It was definitely moist. This DeLallo pasta was very good, too. It wasn't a boxed pasta. It was this: DeLallo Fettuccine Egg Pasta. We had not tried this kind of DeLallo pasta before.

A few 'tips:' mom trimmed the fat from the pancetta and bought very, very lean meats to keep the grease factor as low as possible. She used 2.5 cups of beef broth. She spent quite some time finely chopping her vegetables but if I made this, I would probably used the food processor and maybe even process the vegetables so much that they turn into a bit of a chunky paste.
Definitely a make again dish, and I'm glad we have enough leftovers for 1-2 more meals.

SP did not eat the ragu bolognese. I offered him a taste and he refused. Instead he ate this:
A grilled chicken burger seasoned with seasoned salt, topped with melted Swiss, and placed on top half a whole wheat bagel from Market District. He ate some tomatoes on the side.

It looked so sad next to the pasta.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Favorite Ice Cream

Oh favorite ice cream. It's nearly August and we have just made you for the first time this year. We only enjoy ice cream in warmer months, our house is too cold in the winter, and sadly, we have been side tracked not just by a fractured hip but we have been seduced by other ice creams. My apologies.
Those other ice creams are delicious, and I did so enjoy them, licking the bowls clean, but in spite of their coolness and creaminess, I still pined for you. Every weekend, I mentioned your name. SP rolled his eyes. He mentioned other ice cream flavors. My mom made a face. But I was persistent. I was insistent. And this past weekend, the long wait was over. SP cooked your 6 egg yolk custard. He measured your heavy whipping cream and whole milk. He melted your creamy chocolate and mixed it with cocoa powder. And 24 hours later, I was reunited with you.
It was worth the wait. Creamy. Smooth. Silky, Chocolaty. Rich. A hint of cinnamon. A hint of heat from cayenne.

So worth the wait. You are still my favorite homemade ice cream. Especially when you are plopped on top of a homemade pizzelle.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream. Recipe from Simply Recipes, found here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Attempt #4: Braised Lamb with Lemon & Mint

A week or so after I came home from the hospital, SP came home from grocery shopping and approached me with a combination of excitement and meekness. He had discovered lamb shanks, the whole shank, not simply the osso bucco cut, at Market District, on sale, and had picked up two packages. Usually when he buys something not on the official grocery shopping list, I give him a hard time, but not this time. Yum!

We're still looking for the perfect, go-to lamb braise recipe, so we tried a new one for the first package of shanks: Mint & Lemon Braised Lamb Shanks from Cover & Bake.
The usual: onion, carrots, celery. In addition, lemon halves, some fresh mint, and tomato paste. White wine and chicken stock for the liquid. The shanks are finished with some grated lemon peel & chopped fresh mint.

This time, after the shanks were finished, we pureed the solids and liquid together. This was still tasty, if a bit of an unappetizing orange color, but in the future, I'd rather eat the chunks of carrot and celery than puree them.

The lamb was moist and tender, easily pulling away from the bone with just a fork. I really like citrus, so I really enjoyed the bright, citrus flavor of the lemon. The mint was refreshing and so much better than mint jelly with lamb (I find that disgusting!). The white wine~chicken stock~lemon is a great braising liquid for the warmer summer months, but I think in cooler months, I would prefer a red wine~beef broth~tomato liquid. 
We made roasted mustard-butter cauliflower topped with fresh parsley to go with the lamb and bought bread to eat as well but we were so full from the lamb and cauliflower that we didn't eat the bread!

Recipe can be found here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

1. Almost 8 weeks down with a little over 4 to go until the fracture is (hopefully) healed. I'll find out August 20.

2. I can't get enough Chex Mix. We made a full batch Saturday evening and by Tuesday evening, all 12 cups of crunchy goodness were gone. Yesterday I had serious withdrawal. So I ate half a bag of Milano Melts that had a sell by date of March 2013. I need more Chex Mix. Or Rice Krispies Treats.

3. I'm getting restless. Aside from a doctor appointment and going to a hotel when the power was out for 26 hours, I have not left the house in almost 8 weeks.

4. I'm not sure I want to leave the house since I am now 6 weeks past the normal hair cut & color time. That means it's been 3.5 months. How do you women with long hair do it? Mine is skimming my shoulders and driving me crazy, but not as crazy as the inch and a half of white (it isn't even gray anymore, it's white) hair where my roots have grown in. I'd color it myself except I'm scared of turning it green or purple.

5. I've been keeping busy reading. Thank goodness for the public library and the online account/request forms. This past week I read:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I am torn on this book. I requested it because it was on a couple of 'best of the year so far' lists. It's at times interesting, infuriating, joyful, depressing, heartbreaking, uplifting, sad, happy, dark, bittersweet - covers a whole range of emotions. Just when I thought I was going to quit reading, it pulled me back in. It is thought provoking, the ideas of deja vu and what could have been and living life over and over until you get it right.

Inferno by Dan Brown. Help me. Save me. It's like I couldn't resist. Moth drawn to the light. I actually like Brown's crazy plots and conspiracies and puzzles, but this time there were just too many twists and turns, his writing style drove me crazy, way too many art and history lectures, misleading passages turned out to not be clever misleading but just purposely misleading, the payoff for reading all 480 pages was disappointing... And yet I'll probably read the next Dan Brown novel. But goodness, how on earth does this book get a 4 star rating from Amazon customers?!

6. In late June and early July we devoured all 3 seasons of Downton Abbey, which is a fantastic show. Now we're trying to catch up on the second half of last season's The Walking Dead. My opinion of The Walking Dead: 2 episodes in and I've spent 99% of the time reading a book instead of watching the show. I think I only 'watch' in order to have 'together time' with SP, who still very much enjoys the show. I'm starting to root for the zombies to kill all the humans.

7. Speaking of only watching TV for together time with my sweetie: Under the Dome. Yea. OK. Maybe the book was good (never read Stephen King; hubby has and is a fan), but the show is awful. I don't care about any of the characters, not even the poor teen chained in a bomb shelter by her psycho summer boyfriend. I've been calling it Dips in the Dome. I'm rooting for the dome.

8. I'm a little surprised I didn't root for the sharks in Sharknado. Maybe because I was too busy trying to not fall out of the chair and break another bone from all the laughing? If you haven't seen it, do so. You'll feel so good after laughing that hard for 2 hours.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grilled Green Beans & Bacon Plus Homemade BBQ Sauce

This past weekend, we grilled. We knew we wanted ribs. Dad wanted corn on the cob. Mom decided she wanted Grilled Green Beans with Bacon & Onions. And SP raided our little garden for the last of the arugula and some ripe & juicy cherry tomatoes. Simple and flavorful.

These green beans are simple. Here's how mom does it:

  • As many green beans as you want
  • As much bacon as you want, fried and crumbled
  • As much onion as you want, chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • Butter

Tear off a long sheet of foil and butter it. Layer half of each the green beans (make sure to salt & pepper the beans), bacon, and onion. Dot with a tiny amount of butter. Layer the remaining green beans (salt & pepper them), bacon, and onion on top. Dot with some butter. Wrap foil around the mound and seal tightly. Wrap a second layer of foil around, sealing tightly. Place on grill and grill until done, flipping occasionally. Usually, mom does 1~1.25 lb of green beans and it takes 40-45 minutes on the grill, but it also depends on how hot your grill is. SP grilled chicken legs/thighs/breasts (for later in the week) while he grilled the green bean packet.

Corn on the Cob from Simmons Farm

Williamsburg BBQ Sauce for the Ribs. This time, we made it in the morning and simmered it for about 5 hours so it got much thicker than last time. 

The ribs, seasoned with a store bought rub, wrapped tightly in layers of foil, cooked in the oven at 225 for 4 hours, and finished on the grill with the homemade BBQ sauce.

Mmmmm good. Moist and tangy.
My favorite BBQ sauce, the Williamsburg BBQ Sauce from my childhood:

1 cup onion
¼ cup butter
1 cup catsup (ketchup)
½ cup cooking sherry
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup white vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup water

Combine all ingredients in sauce pan and simmer for 5+ hours until thickened (sauce will be thin for a while).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Firehouse Subs

Saturday evening SP & I were on our own for dinner. My parents had gone out to the casino and then dinner out, a sort of date night before my dad flies back to Las Vegas. Neither of us felt like cooking, so we decided to try Firehouse Subs. Firehouse Subs recently opened a location in Robinson. It's in the same area as Burgatory, Game Stop, and Chipotle, which are near Panera and Pier One  -and WalMart. So SP was lucky enough to be able to drop into WalMart to pick up a few items (Chex Mix ingredients!) before getting our dinner and bringing it home.
Engineer sub
SP tried the Engineer sub (how appropriate!). It's turkey breast, melted Swiss, and sauteed mushrooms with tomato, onion, and lettuce. He likes that they have an option to swap a white sub bun for a whole wheat bun and we both thought that compared to some other sub places, the amount of meat on this was pretty generous. He said it was tasty. He also enjoyed his dill pickle, and mine.
I chose Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket. I asked for the 'special sauces' on the side, so SP returned with two packets of mayo (which I did not use) and 2 tiny containers of a BBQ, which I did use.
Again, there was a good amount of meat. I like that it was thinly sliced and I could taste a faint smoke flavor. The BBQ sauce was a very nice standard BBQ sauce - not too sweet, not too tangy, just very basic.
SP said that the employees were handing out coupons for a free combo upgrade so he got a bag of chips (Fritos!) and a Coca-Cola Freestyle soda. I think he chose Coke Zero with cherry-vanilla syrup flavor. Our meal cost $13 and change. Definitely a good deal.

To me, it seems there are a lot of sub places around these days, including several new ones in the area, which makes me wonder how they all can survive. Here in Robinson, in addition to Firehouse Subs, a Jimmy John's recently opened (at Settlers Ridge). Robinson also has Uncle Sam's, Dibella's, Subway and there are sub options at all the pizza places and I think there is a Charley's Grilled Subs, too. When we are in McMurray, we also see Jersey Mike's and Quiznos.

Of the places in Robinson, I would put Firehouse Subs in my top 2. It might get the top nod because it was founded by firemen and they established the non-profit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation with the goal to provide funding, life saving equipment, disaster assistance, and educational opportunities for first responders and public safety organizations.

Personally, this hits home of late. To start, when I fell and broke my hip, we called 911 and the Robinson EMTs arrived. These guys were amazing, not just in getting me onto a stretcher and being careful of our hardwood floors, but on the ride to the hospital, a young EMT let me grip his hand the entire way while I gasped and yelped in pain at every bump and turn.

Second, just last week there was a fire at a condo/apartment complex just down the hill from us. We were woken by all the sirens around 5 am and later that morning turned on the news to see what had happened. The firefighters battling that fire were out there at 5 am in that incredible heat & humidity, wearing pounds of gear, battling to stop the fire and save any trapped people/pets. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

Third, for the last few years of his life, my grandpa struggled with his health. Several times, EMT's were summoned because he fell and at the end, because he had a heart attack. That very same summer as my grandpa's last summer, our neighbor was very ill. Many times, we were woken in the middle of the night by the flashing lights next door when the EMTs were summoned. Sadly, both my grandpa and our neighbor passed away within the same week. But I remember feeling grateful for the EMTs who helped both of them.

I know the EMTs and police are right down the hill. I know the firemen are nearby. I hear the fire siren every time they are summoned and I say a prayer of thanks it's not for me and I hope it's a minor call. But sometimes, I think we take these services for granted.

It's a very small thing to buy a sub for dinner and round up to make a small donation or to buy a used pickle bucket to support first responders. You never know when you'll need them - and trust me, from my experiences, someday, you will.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stuffed Shells, 2 Ways

Usually when I want a dose of pasta with red sauce and lots of cheese, we turn to lasagna. A lot of people think lasagna is difficult to make, but it really isn't. In fact, it's much easier to layer noodles, sauce, and cheese than it is to stuff the cheese into a tube pasta like manicotti or a curled pasta like jumbo shells. That's why we have never made stuffed shells or manicotti. But I've been wanting to try Stuffed Shells with Vodka Tomato Cream Sauce from Cover & Bake, so since my mom could help and since she has experience making stuffed shells, we decided to tackle this labor intensive meal.

Turns out, stuffing shells isn't too difficult nor that time consuming. Unless, of course, you decide to make two different sauces and two different trays of stuffed shells! We may have made enough to feed a small army!

SP & I made the creamy vodka sauce. It's very easy and takes less than half an hour. I love stirring the cream into the tomato base and watching as it swirls in and turns the sauce a lovely shade of pink.

My mom made her sauce, the meat sauce I grew up loving in lasagna, on spaghetti, on stuffed shells, even just simply spooned on top some bread. After all, it's important to constantly taste the simmering sauce and my brother and I were only too happy to keep an eye on the sauce as it simmered during the afternoon. The bread was an excellent delivery vehicle for taste tests.
Two sauces meant two boxes of jumbo shells. SP was in charge of cooking the shells. Mom and I were in charge of stuffing the shells with the mozzarella-ricotta-egg mixture. I'm a little embarrassed to admit just how much ricotta & mozzarella cheese we used to stuff the shells, just know it was more than the recipe calls for! We covered the pans of shells and sauce with freshly grated parmesan.
And baked them at 400 for 30-40 minutes.
Fresh basil to sprinkle on top.
So above is a stuffed shell covered in mom's sauce. Hers is a deep red sauce.
Inside the shell: cheesy goodness.
Above is the stuffed shell with vodka-tomato-cream sauce. We did not follow the complete recipe. In Cover & Bake, the cheese mixture also has peas and chopped mint. Ours just had cheese goodness inside and fresh basil on top.
Mangled stuffed shell.

I love my mom's sauce, and those shells were very tasty. I like, but don't love, the vodka-tomato-cream shells. When we baked that tray, the shells seemed to absorb most of the sauce, so they were kind of dry. I prefer my shells swimming in sauce, lots of sauce, so that I can mop the sauce with a piece of bread. The sauce is flavorful, I can taste all the ingredients, but at the same time, that was a problem for me. When we taste tested the sauce from the pan, the vodka flavor was way too strong for me. After the shells and sauce baked, the vodka was less pronounced, which was a good thing, but that wee bit of crushed red pepper really gave the shells a kick (keeping in mind that I am not a fan of spice/heat). I thought the final product really needed the fresh basil to give it that extra oomph, otherwise, they were a bit bland.

I find it hard to believe that I am calling pasta stuffed with lots of cheese bland and not entirely satisfying, but, I am. I think if we made these again, I'd definitely include the peas and/or mint and maybe make some extra sauce in hopes of saucier shells.

My mom's sauce:
1 (28 oz) can tomato puree
1 small can tomato paste
1/2-1 green pepper, diced
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 lb ground beef
dried parsley, oregano, basil
salt & pepper
2 T brown sugar
2-3 T Worcestershire

Saute pepper, celery, and onion in a bit of butter and/or olive oil. Brown ground meat in separate pan. Drain fat and add to sauteed vegetables. Add puree, paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire, and herbs. Stir and simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. My mom likes to cool the sauce, refrigerate it overnight, then warm it the next day before making lasagna or stuffed shells.

Cover & Bake Stuffed Shells with Vodka-Tomato-Cream Sauce recipe can be found here:

Monday, July 15, 2013

S'mores Cheesecake

I came across a recipe for S'mores Cheesecake and after the success of our last cheesecake, I decided we needed to try this one. Plus, it was s'mores flavors and I love s'mores flavors.
We actually made two cheesecakes this past weekend. The first was the same cheesecake we made last week. The second was this one. On this one, the graham crust is just on the bottom, not up the sides, and it's a little sweeter because there's more sugar and more butter mixed in the with ground graham crackers.
Instead of sour cream, the s'mores cheesecake uses heavy whipping cream. Unlike the plain cheesecake, this one doesn't rest in the oven for an hour after baking. I wasn't sure about the slightly fallen center, I was worried about it being fully baked, but it turned out it was set/cooked the entire way through after an hour. I was sad to see the crack after it sat for a while. I guess the crack doesn't matter once you top it with the homemade marshmallow fluff topping and use a creme brulee torch to toast the marshmallow topping.
This S'mores Cheesecake is good, but I'm not sure we'd make it again just for ourselves (mom and dad are eating the plain cheesecake; they have no interest in the s'mores one). It's definitely not as smooth & creamy as the plain cheesecake and it seems a little denser & heavier. We also don't seem to have gotten the sugar in the topping to completely dissolve; it was a little grainy/crunchy, even after using the torch. But I like the marshmallow flavor and I had fun swirling the fluff into peaks. It definitely tastes like s'mores. I might make it for a large gathering - I think it's too rich and sweet for our tastes so the entire cheesecake is a bit much for us! But just one or two pieces would be good.
Recipe here:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I wanted a 'special' dessert over July 4. Not ice cream, not any of the treats we had received. Something homemade. Something kind of new and different. I really wanted the Fruit Tart with Mixed Berries that we almost always make over July 4. But my mom isn't much of a Fruit Tart fan. She is, however, a fan of cheesecake, and so is SP, so we decided to make a cheesecake.
I still wanted berries. Mom doesn't really like berries, except for strawberries. She likes the Peach Cheesecake that we've made before, but it's not really peach season, plus, that uses a lot of cream cheese (32 oz) and I wanted to have a cheesecake that wasn't so... cream cheesy... if that's possible! So we settled on a plain cheesecake with berries/fruit on the side. We don't often make cheesecake, so this was something different for us. I used a recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.
Graham cracker crust. Simple, basic filling. Eight pieces of cheesecake. Cherries and/or strawberries (sometimes blueberries and/or raspberries as well) on the side. Delicious! I was afraid it might taste too much like sour cream, but it didn't. It was very moist and smooth, melting in my mouth. This is definitely a great go-to basic cheesecake recipe.

1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 T sugar
1.2 tsp cinnamon
4 T unsalted butter, melted

Place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat oven to 325. Grease an 8" springform pan. Combine all the crust ingredients until evenly moistened. Press firmly and evenly into the pan, coming 2-3 inches up the side of the pan. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes.

1 lb cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix well but do not overbeat. Add sour cream and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Pour mixture into prepared crust.

Bake cheesecake at 325 for 1 hour. Turn off oven and let cheesecake remain in warm oven, without opening the door, for another hour. Remove cheesecake from oven and cool completely on wire rack. Refrigerate and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Remove cheesecake from refrigerator. Unclasp and release the pan sides. Slice and serve. We like ours with strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries on the side.

*Do not use nonfat or low-fat cream cheese.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Raspberry Ice Cream

My ice cream obsession continues! We haven't yet finished the Cherry Sorbet (though there are only 2-3 small scoops remaining) but I still wanted to try a new flavor over the holiday weekend. This time, we chose Raspberry Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop.
I really wanted to try one of the egg custard based ice creams from this book. Neither the Tiramisu nor Cherry Sorbet recipes use eggs. Of our homemade ice creams, the ones with an egg custard base have been my favorites. We debated between the Raspberry Ice Cream, which purees 6 cups of raspberries to be stirred into the base, and the Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream, which is a vanilla based ice cream with a raspberry swirl through it and uses significantly fewer raspberries. Raspberries can be expensive.
We ended up buying raspberries at Costco - 3 packages of raspberries! There were a few leftover after we measured 6 cups. It takes 6 cups to yield about 1.5 cups of seedless puree. The recipe suggests chilling the custard base for only 4 hours so as not to lose the rich raspberry flavor, so instead of making the base in the evening, chilling overnight, and churning in the morning, we made the base first thing in the morning and churned it after lunch. That was a nice change of pace because we were able to enjoy the ice cream the same day we started making it instead of waiting a day for it to be ready.
I am very happy we chose the Raspberry Ice Cream with the puree even if it meant spending $10-$11 just on raspberries. This ice cream is very flavorful and very smooth & creamy. It's delicious on its own but also delicious alongside angel food cake or leftover dark chocolate Easter candy. Definitely an ice cream we would make again.

Recipe can be found here:

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Holiday Recap

We had a very low key July 4 weekend. In fact, I'm pretty sure we completely forgot it was even a holiday until we heard the fireworks at the park near us. No picnics, no parties, just lots of resting and relaxing and watching Pirates baseball and Downton Abbey (we have finished watching all 3 seasons now and eagerly await season 4).

We did make ourselves a small holiday treat: Hot Artichoke Dip (recipe below) with tortilla chips.
I love this dip, but it is cheesy and fatty and not healthy, so we don't make it very often. Artichokes, mayonnaise, sour cream, parmesan, and hot sauce heated until bubbly and gooey - yum!
After an afternoon of snacking on the dip, we ate salad for dinner. It was easy, cool, and healthy. Mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, carrots, green olives, kalamatas, avocado, hard boiled egg, goat cheese, and shrimp with homemade Poppyseed Dressing (recipe below). I love this poppyseed dressing. I think it's the honey that makes me like it so much.
After 2 days of afternoon artichoke dip snacking followed by dinner salad, I wanted something different. We still had some avocado, so I decided I wanted grilled avocado, tomato, and smoked Gouda for dinner. One of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever made.
Sunday morning was brunch morning. We don't often make a big breakfast/brunch at home. We are either too busy with chores/errands or have too much other cooking planned, but with a 4 day weekend and my mom in town to help, we had some extra free time and extra help. SP made French Toast and fried bacon. It's my favorite fruit time of the year, so I insisted on blueberries, raspberries, and cherries on top my French Toast. Delicious. Especially with the dash of nutmeg, dashes of cinnamon, and splash of vanilla in the egg & milk mixture.

We didn't do much cooking, and nothing was especially complicated or fancy, but everything was really tasty and satisfying. Sometimes, a very low key holiday celebration is just what is needed.

Poppyseed Dressing:
3/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 T poppyseed
1 T Dijon mustard
a little onion salt

Hot Artichoke Dip:
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup parmesan
hot sauce (as much/little as you like)
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients well, spread in baking dish, sprinkle more parmesan on top, bake at 350 until bubbly and melty. Serve with tortilla chips.